Earn The Story

The other day, I was watching a movie, and all I could think was the story didn’t earn emotions on the screen. It felt forced. I saw them setting up the blocks, predicted what would happen next, and felt rather disappointed when it did. Every genre has a general formula that if follows. You can’t have a mystery without a red herring or a contemporary romance without a hero/heroine. Regardless, readers and viewers expect some deviation. Writers can’t rely solely on tropes to set the mood throughout a story.

Emotional levels vary. When a character shoots straight from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, skipping all the steps in between, it may feel forced. For example, a character is cheerful one moment and the next instant angered. There are a number of phases in between. Until readers get to know a character’s personality, motivation, goals, etc. this sudden shift may feel jarring and fake.

There are a number of ways to move from one emotion to the other:

cheerful + overwhelmed + isolated + frustrated = angered

cheerful + embarrassed + confused = angered

cheerful + surprised + discouraged + inferior = angered

Once the reader is firmly grounded in the story and character, they’ll understand which emotional change a character is undergoing and it will feel logical and earned.

How about you? What tips do you have for earning a story? Do you have any examples of a story/movie that earns the story?

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Make It Real

Rich world building is one of the things I enjoy most about reading paranormal books, and I believe this applies to all genres, as well as literary fiction. I love when authors create a place so well I’m tempted to add it to my Place To Visit list, but then remember it’s only a fantasy world. I mentioned before that I read like a writer (here), and I’ve been paying extra attention to how authors create worlds.

Here are a few things which draw me in:

Photo by Denise (dwyant160 on Flickr)

  • Consistency. Once the author establishes rules for how the world works, they serve as guidelines for what to expect later. For example, in HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, she established the rules that govern Panem and the twelve outlying districts. Readers know each district has to send a boy and girl to participate in the Games and they know the dismal outcome. While reading the book, I kept thinking, “There’s no way…” yet Collins stayed true to her world’s rules and beloved characters died.
  • Believable paranormal elements. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out. Even though paranormal writers dally in the supernatural, there are still certain things readers of the genre expect. Ghosts are incorporeal. Zombies can’t talk. Vampires burn in sunlight. Valkyrie can’t resist shiny objects. Whenever writers deviate from these standards, they’re tasked with making it believable (and consistent). It can be done. I’m sure we can all think of books where paranormal creatures break traditional expectations.
  • Rich setting/characters. One of my favorite things about Kresley Cole (*admits author crush*) is how real her settings are. She incorporates all five senses (sound, taste, smell, touch, and sight) into her scenes in a well-balanced way, so the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed with description. Cole also has strong heroines and heroes whose personalities stay consistent (decisive, not wishy washy). Her characters only undergo personality change after major trials and tribulations.
  • Normal Things. This goes hand in hand with setting. These are the things we all experience or can relate to which make a setting real. It’s the sound of a crumpled brown paper towel, the hum of a vending machine, the chill of a hospital, the sight of sunlight filtering through window blinds, the delicious taste of chocolate, etc.  These everyday things help readers feel closer to a story.

What additional elements do you include in your world building? What draws you to the type of books you like to read?

Reading Like A Writer

I spoke a couple of weeks ago about a method I use to take the sting out of query letter rejection (here). Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a few books. While I await the release of Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole and Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter, I’ve selected a few free ereads.

Photo by Jessie Harrell

For a while now, I’ve been reading like a writer. Sometimes it takes the joy out of a book, other times it adds a whole new level of appreciation. This month, I read one book in each category. Overall, I enjoyed both of them. However, one author has me willing to pay money for the next book, the other not so much.

Here’s what did/didn’t work for me:

The Book I’ll Pass On

  • I have to admit, I loved the premise of this story. It was well into the genres I like. The author had a strong grasp on the paranormal creatures in the story and did a wonderful job of staying consistent with the supernatural powers in the world created.
  • There was tension and conflict in the story, but some of it felt orchestrated and much was resolved through hap and circumstance.
  • This one was a YA book and the author nailed the age and attitude, but it was a little over board.
  • The author used regional slang and clichés to the detriment of dialogue.
  • Plus, and I might be guilty on this one, the author had multiple scenes of every day things with no underlying tension. For example, the MC was getting ready for a date and that was it. No underlying emotional or mental tension.

The Book That Hooked Me

  • LOVED the heroine and the hero.
  • The voice hooked me right away. The MC is funny and relatable and freely admits her faults without out sound too self-deprecating.
  • The world building is wonderful and information about the setting is doled out in small digestible doses.
  • The supporting cast a.k.a. minor characters are intriguing in their own way.
  • I cared about what happened to the MC if she failed to reach her goal.

Have you ever picked up a free book which hooked you so well you purchased more from the author (if it’s paranormal romance, I want titles and names, please and thank you 🙂 )? What drew you in? Have you picked up one that turned you off, and if so say why (out of respect, please KEEP TITLES and NAMES ANONYMOUS)?

[Update: Look what I found. Free Kindle books here.]

Why Can’t I Quit Her?

I have a stack of books waiting for me to pick them up and crack them open. I have sample pages of eBooks on my Kindle waiting for me to click them. Yet, I keep finding myself searching for new Kresley Cole Immortal After Dark books. This series centers around a variety of Lore creatures from Valkyrie to Lykae to Shifters to Vampires to many others who secretly live among humankind. I love all things paranormal, but more than that draws me into her books.

As a writer, my curiosity about how Cole hooks readers led me to this list:

  • Rich and vivid world building. I have no problem imagining the settings Cole creates. She doesn’t dedicate page after page to description, rather she brings the environment alive through her characters’ POV and shows them interacting with their surroundings.
  • Strong, well thought out characters. I am amazed by how seamlessly she weaves her characters into the different books in this series. Each one focuses on a hero and heroine, their individual goals (which conflict with one another), the obstacles in their way, and how they intend to reach their goals. She brings in characters from other books in the series who inadvertently and sometimes advertently (Nix, I’m talking about you) affect one another. Each character has their own sense of humor and made me laugh at the most unexpected moments.
  • Deep paranormal immersion. This world that Cole has created is ripe with powerful paranormal beings who have weaknesses and scars. There’s the Valkyrie,who are fierce, beautiful women with an affinity for movies, video games, and swiping clothes from one another. The Lykae, Vampires, Demons, Beserkers, and Fey are powerful, wicked, and scarred.
  • Thrilling and intricate plots. So far, every Immortal After Dark book I’ve read mentions the Accession, a kind of mystical checks-and-balances system for an ever-growing population of immortals. Readers get to see this thing unfold from multiple points of view. I’m impressed with how tightly the story lines are weaved from one book to another. The adventures take readers around the world.
  • Last, but not least, the romance. Cole knows how to create mental, physical, and sexual tension between characters in a believable way. Her passionate, virile male characters are lethally protective over their fated mates, even though these women can hold their own.

What draws you into a book series? Who can’t you quit?

[Note: Cole writes adult paranormal romance.]

Friday Fun: Pandora

Do you know about Pandora? I’m not talking about the mythical box which contained all the evils of the world. I’m referring to the free internet radio station Pandora.com. It’s a personalized internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites. And I love to listen to it when I write. I have different stations for different moods, so it’s easy to slip into the zone.

Extra bit of fun. I recently discovered Gena Showalter. She writes an adult paranormal romance series (Lords of the Underworld) based on immortals possessed with demons from Pandora’s Box (the mythical one) and it’s an awesome series. I admire her skill and devour her books.

Do you listen to music when you write? Are you already familiar with Pandora.com?